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Catholic Schools Find ‘Relief’ in Federal Aid

By Theresa Stratford

Catholic Schools Find ‘Relief’ in Federal Aid

Catholic schools in South Carolina have received needed assistance in the form of emergency federal funds, which were designated for nonpublic schools. They were awarded in late May by the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE).

However, this federal aid was not just handed out haphazardly or without proper discernment. Through a series of applications and grants, the Diocese of Charleston advocated and secured $22 million for the 33 Catholic schools across the state.

Based on information found on the SCDE website, the state was awarded $39 million in federal education funds, of which all but $200,000 are available to eligible nonprofit, nonpublic centers of learning. Schools had to submit applications for review and approval by the SCDE for reimbursement or for future services.

Michael Acquilano, the secretary for communications and public affairs for the Diocese of Charleston, worked in tandem with the diocesan Catholic Schools Office during the application process. He explained that this was all part of the COVID-19 relief package from the federal government intended to open schools safely, and in some cases to reimburse Catholic schools for the provisions they had to make in order to open for the 2020-2021 school year.

“Our Catholic schools in some cases paid back-owed internet bills for students who didn’t have access when they needed to learn virtually,” Acquilano said.

He said the diocese plans to use additional funds to acquire technology and mobile classrooms, and to hire nurses and counselors.

William Ryan, diocesan superintendent, said that schools have purchased personal protective equipment, plastic dividers, additional cleaning supplies and more. This grant money will help fill the gaps of what had to be acquired and installed to comply with COVID protocols.

Ryan added that Catholic schools across the state reported some students struggled more than others to catch up when schools moved to a virtual platform during the March 2020 shutdown.

“This money will also help us implement a summer school program to get those students back on track,” he noted.

Ryan commented on the counselors who will also help students recover mentally.

“COVID took an emotional toll on students, impacting them a great deal,” he said. “I know students and their families will benefit from having a counselor on staff.”

Some, but not all, Catholic schools had school nurses or counselors before the pandemic.

“At many schools, the students were sent to the front office for basic medical needs. The pandemic has brought to light the vital importance of having someone with a medical background at the school,” Ryan added. “They can better assist with allergic reactions, medications for children with chronic disease or emergencies that might arise. And if there is COVID exposure, a school nurse will be better equipped to handle the steps that need to be taken and followed to ensure overall safety.”

Like providing counselors and nurses, the funds can only be used for prescribed purposes. They went through final approval in May and will start being allocated before the 2021-2022 school year begins. They will continue to roll out until September 2023.

S.C. Catholic schools continue to see an increase in enrollment, which directly correlates to the increase in people moving to the state. Ryan and Acquilano agree that the granted funds will have a direct impact on the current services offered and also instill a strong base for the future.

“This is not for the institutions. This funding is for our students, and they are what make our outcomes superior,” Acquilano concluded.


Theresa Stratford is a freelance writer and reporter. Email her at tmmart89@gmail.com.